— Nationally syndicated columnist Bob Novak is out with what he says is the inside story behind the long delay in picking a new United States Attorney for San Diego. According to Novak, staffers at the White House and in the office of Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah have been blocking the appointment of Charles LaBella, an ex-deputy U.S. Attorney and one-time Clinton antagonist who has been recommended for the post by Gerald Parsky, the L.A. venture capitalist and Rancho Santa Fe denizen designated by President George W. Bush to come up with a candidate for the job. "The anti-LaBella cabal threatens plans for President Bush to win approval of California federal judges in the Democratic-controlled Senate," claims Novak, who goes on to say that White House staffers, including legal aide Brad Berenson, are holding out for Jeff Taylor, a justice department lawyer who has been working in Hatch's office. "Kyle Sampson, a former Hatch aide who now works in the White House, along with Berenson has kept the LaBella nomination from getting to the president's desk." Novak says Hatch "has told others that Justice Department professional staffers report that LaBella is not a team player. Hatch has also suggested in private that a solution might be making LaBella the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, perhaps on the theory that team players are less needed there." Concludes Novak: "LaBella's supporters in California fear another name is moving through the secret bureaucratic process and soon will be unveiled as a fait accompli. Imagine Senator Diane Feinstein's vexation. Having accepted LaBella and sold him to Senator Barbara Boxer, how would she react to a White House veto? Gerry Parsky's carefully wrought plan to win Senate confirmation of a batch of new lifetime district judges, conservative but acceptable to California's Democratic senators, would be a shambles."

School news Ex-admiral Veronica "Ronnie" Froman, the new head of the San Diego Unified School District's business and facilities office, was listed last week as a speaker at a $100-a-head "campaign skills" training session in Mission Valley held by the Women's Leadership Forum of the Democratic National Committee and the National Women's Political Caucus. Meanwhile, school district public affairs officer David Smollar, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times whose late father was once Union-Tribune columnist Neil Morgan's personal physician, has quit his job and headed off for a three-week European vacation ... It's not quite David Letterman's Top Ten, but Lawyers Weekly USA, a magazine for the nation's attorneys, is out with its top ten American jury verdicts list for 2001. Coming in tenth is the City of San Diego's infamous inverse condemnation loss to Otay Mesa property owner Roque de la Fuente, currently under appeal, which could cost city taxpayers $100 million or more. Number one on the list: $3 billion in punitive damages, later reduced to $100 million, against Philip Morris in a cancer case.

Federal largesse A new report by the General Accounting Office says that a "significant breakdown in internal controls" over credit cards at San Diego's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command has cost taxpayers over $68 million in fraudulent purchases. "Neither SPAWAR nor the Navy Public Works Center had effective policies for issuance of purchase cards, establishing credit limits and minimizing the federal government's financial exposure," the GAO says. "Any employee having supervisory approval could get a card. These units did not perform credit checks on prospective cardholders." Five separate investigations into suspects in the fraud are underway ... Who are the biggest beneficiaries of federal agricultural subsidies for San Diego County farms? Phil and Heather Rheingans, whose base is in Winchester, just north of the county line. They took in over $150,000, according to a new website set up by Washington's Environmental Working Group. Peter J. Verboom, Sr., of Pala bagged $67,156.13. Others who took federal money to run their farms included Ramona's Valley View Dairy ($50,172.96); S & C Vander Woude Dairy, San Marcos ($34,511.73); and Mesa Chiquita Ranch, Santa Ysabel ($28,565.70), the site says.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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